For Heritage Month, a history of Durban's memorials

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Sep 19, 2019

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Durban - As part of Heritage Month, the South African National Society posted a Facebook challenge to members to photograph memorials and statues in Durban. Myra Boyes took pictures of some heritage sites still standing around the city

Batholomew Diaz

The Diaz Memorial next to the Maritime Museum, just off Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment), remains in good condition. 

This memorial was erected for the Portuguese sailor Bartolomeu Dias (Bartholomew Diaz) who led an expedition along the coast of Africa in 1488. The oldest links between Africa and Europe have been traced to the early Portuguese navigators and their voyages of discovery. They were the first Europeans to set foot on African soil. 

Diaz was the first explorer to round the southernmost tip of Africa, opening the sea routes to India. He also served as a shipbuilding consultant for the Vasco Da Gama expedition and sailed with Da Gama as far as the Cape Verde Islands. Da Gama’s ships reached India in May 1498, a decade after Diaz’s historic journey.

Mendi Memorial 

This memorial is next to the Maritime Museum. 

In 1917, the SS Mendi troopship carrying the last contingent of the SA Native Labour Corps made up of 805 black privates, five white officers, 17 non-commissioned officers and 33 crew members sank on February 21, 1917, about 19km off the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England, after sailing from Cape Town towards Le Havre in France. 

The vessel had been rammed by the SS Darro, which was travelling at full speed. The SS Mendi sank within 20 minutes and the men on board have gone down in history as facing death with supreme courage. Many jumped into icy waters. More than 600 black troops died along with nine white officers and all the crew members. 

An interpreter and former church minister, Isaac Wauchope Dyobha, calmed the men as they faced certain death, with his words recorded, “We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies”.

Lifeboats from SS Mendi’s escorting destroyer, HMS Brisk, rowed among the survivors trying to rescue them. 

The commemoration of the SS Mendi is held on the third Sunday of February every year.

Dick King

Richard “Dick” King was an English trader at Port Natal who gained fame after his historic 10-day horse ride in 1842 when he rode 960km through wilderness and across 120 rivers to Grahamstown to request help for the besieged British garrison at Port Natal (Old Fort, Durban). The distance normally took 17 days. 

The statue was created by Italian marble designer, Adolfo Ascoli, arrived in Durban just before the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). King’s stands on Margaret Mncadi Avenue and the reins are missing, presumed stolen. 

King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo 

In Park King Dinizulu opposite the Durban Institute of Technology, there is a statue of Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo who ruled from 1884 until his death in 1914. There are two plaques missing from the memorial. His statue faces that of General Louis Botha who, on becoming prime minister in 1910, released the Zulu king from prison. 

In March 1908, the king had been given a four-year sentence after being charged with treason when he had been implicated in the Bambatha Rebellion. He had always maintained his innocence and Botha believed that his old friend, King Dinuzulu, had not been given a fair trial. 

Louis Botha

The statue of Louis Botha is at the opposite end of Park King Dinizulu, facing King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo. 

In the first Boer War, Botha led a group of Boers known as “Dinuzulu’s Volunteers”, who supported King Dinuzulu against vying successor to the royal throne, Zibhebhu, in 1884. 

Botha was recognised as a war hero in the second Boer War 1899. After the wars, he went into politics, representing his countrymen in peace negotiations. He became the first president of the Union of South African Union in 1910. 

Jacobs Concentration Camp

This memorial on Voortrekker Road, Bluff, is neglected with litter strewn around the property. The Jacobs Concentration Camp was established a couple of kilometres away from the Merebank Camp. It was the last Natal concentration camp to close, in February 1903. History records indicate that of the 3 000 inmates, 47 people died at the camp and were buried in the Jacobs Concentration Camp cemetery. 

Voortrekker Camp Memorial

This memorial in Congella Park, at the corner of Voortrekker Street and Thorn Road, commemorates the site of the Battle of Congella during the siege of Port Natal. 

In May 1842, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers regiment arrived in Port Natal under Captain Charlton Smith and set up camp, despite demands by the Boers that the British leave Natal. 

The village of “Kongella”, held by the Boers, was only a few kilometres from the British camp and at midnight on May 23-24, the British launched an attack. They were forcefully defeated by the Boers under General Pretorius. 

Smith sent King on his historic ride to Grahamstown to bring reinforcements to the embattled British regiment, which also ultimately brought victory to the British. 

The Cenotaph 

The Cenotaph next to the City Hall was erected in Farewell Square, a small walled garden next to the City Hall, as a memorial to soldiers who died in World War I. 

Last year saw some of the plaques in the garden being stolen and there is now 24-hour security at the entrance to the memorial. 

The Cenotaph stands about 11m high and is built of granite with glazed ceramic tiles depicting two angels raising the soul of a dead soldier. The vivid colour of the decoration has been said to add a uniqueness to the Cenotaph among World War I memorials around the world. 

The design was a result of a competition in 1921 and was won by Cape Town architect company Eagle, Pilington and McQueen, while the ceramics were made in England by Poole Pottery. 

The memorial was unveiled in 1926. - Additional information: sahistory.org, navy.mil.za and wikipedia 

The Independent on Saturday

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